We’ve reached the point in the college basketball season where wins and losses mean more as the NCAA Tournament creeps up.
About three months ago, 349 eligible teams began with hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Every day, chances started to become slimmer and now we’ve reached the point where one final push is needed. Discluding the majority of mid-majors, here’s where the power conference and a handful of high-mid-majors stand in late February.
Duke (24-4, 14-3)
In a conference that normally dominates college basketball, Duke is the only ranked team as of February 25. Not ideal for the ACC, but Duke fans can give a sigh of relief.
Notre Dame (20-8, 13-4)
The Irish have the strongest resume of any of the remaining ACC teams. A non-conference win over Kentucky certainly elevates an extremely offensively talented Mike Brey-coached team.
More Work Needed (4)
Miami (20-8, 12-5)
The ACC will get more than just two teams in – likely somewhere in the range of four to five. But right now, it’s hard to decipher who the others will be after Duke and Notre Dame. Miami presents a strong resume with a win over Duke, but also lost to UCF and twice to Florida State. Magic Number: 2
North Carolina (20-8, 12-5)
North Carolina’s tournament chances rely on either brand bias or a strong run in the ACC Tournament. If you take the name away, it’s a team with a solid record in a power conference whose best win is over either Michigan or at Virginia Tech. Magic Number: 3
Virginia (17-11, 11-7)
After a loss to Navy to start out the season (who are right in the Patriot League mix by the way) Virginia has flipped the script with wins over Duke and Providence. The Friars’ dub carries more weight than it did in November. Magic Number: 3
Wake Forest (21-8, 11-7)
Not a great time for the Demon Deacons to be losers of three out of their last four games. It’s also a very lackluster resume that shows with a NET ranking of 43rd with just one quadrant-1 win. Magic Number: 3
Far Chance (1)
Virginia Tech (17-11, 9-8)
Some people are in love with the Hokies’ chances but I am not given their 0-5 record in quad-1 games. Keve Aluma and co also have two quad-3 losses and sit barely over .500 in the worst of the power conferences. Magic Number: 5
Baylor (23-5, 11-4)
The Bears have been a Final Four favorite all year long and even though their stock has slightly dropped, they’re still on pace for either a two or three seed once Selection Sunday rolls around.
Kansas (23-4, 12-2)
Surprise! The Jayhawks are once again the top team in the Big 12. Ochai Agbaji is a star and it seems as if everything is coming full circle. David McCormack’s play has risen to the occasion.
Texas (20-8, 9-6)
Some were doubting Texas’ chances at even making the NCAA Tournament as it took forever for the Longhorns to pick up a head-turning win. But now with wins over Tennessee and Kansas, you can take Texas more seriously. They’re still a second-weekend threat.
Texas Tech (22-6, 11-4)
There might not be a better story than Mark Adams’ ability to keep the Red Raiders not just relevant, but at the top of the national conversation, after most thought Chris Beard’s departure would significantly impact Texas Tech. Think again. And with three of the easier opponents in the conference left on Tech’s regular-season schedule, this team might just be rolling into March.
More Work Needed (2)
Iowa State (19-9, 6-9)
Unpopular opinion: Iowa State isn’t actually safe. I get it, the 8-7 record in quad-1 games is hard to pass up. But playing devil’s advocate, if the Cyclones were to lose out to Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, and have an early Big 12 exit, they aren’t a lock. And for these purposes, you have to look at all possible scenarios. Just get me to 20 wins. Magic Number: 1
TCU (17-9, 6-8)
TCU’s non-conference schedule could end up hurting the Horned Frogs. Their best win before Big 12 competition started was against Utah and lost by 19 to Santa Clara. A road win over Iowa State at least gives Jamie Dixon’s squad some merit. Now they have Texas Tech, Kansas x2, and West Virginia before the Big 12 Tournament. Sheesh. Magic Number: 3
Far Chance (1)
Oklahoma (14-14, 4-11)
There’s always one team flirting with dropping below .500 that actually still has some tourney chances in late February. The Sooners have three quad-1 wins but sometimes you have to look past that. They got early-season victories over Florida, Arkansas, and Iowa State. But since January 8, Porter Moser’s group has only won two games – West Virginia and Texas Tech. It’s time to go on a major run. Magic Number: 5
Creighton (19-8, 11-5)
11-5 in the best conference in college basketball shouldn’t even need a resume check. But if I must: dubs over Villanova, UConn, Marquette twice, and BYU. The Bluejays have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Providence (23-3, 13-2)
The Friars have been disrespected just about every AP Poll this season yet Ed Cooley hasn’t batted an eye. The National Coach of the Year contender (along with Mark Adams) has his Friars in position for the best season in school history. Can it extend in March?
UConn (20-7, 11-5)
You know the saying – “Watch out for this team in March.” It seems the Huskies always turn it on right when the flowers start to get in bloom and spring is in the air. The win over Villanova on Tuesday could be just the start.
Villanova (21-7, 14-4)
I still believe the Wildcats are the team to beat in the Big East. 14-4 in conference is nothing to be shameful about and Jay Wright’s bunch is playing exceptional basketball with Collin Gillespie (he’s still in college hoops???) leading the way.
More Work Needed (3)
Marquette (17-10, 9-7)
Like Iowa State, Marquette seems like a lock at 7-7 in quad one games but a 1-2 showing against Butler, DePaul, and St. John’s would have us questioning the Golden Eagles. Magic Number: 2
Seton Hall (17-9, 8-8)
The Pirates are also on the verge of feeling pretty safe, although getting Bryce Aiken healthy and back in the lineup is this team’s true “magic number.” Even with that, a win over Xavier on Saturday, and I think Kevin Willard has to feel pretty certain about his team’s tournament chances. Magic Number: 2
Xavier (17-10, 7-9)
A buddy of mine has been insisting for weeks that Xavier was going to collapse and miss the NCAA Tournament. I told him he was crazy. Now I’m not so sure. Vice versa, a loss to Seton Hall on February 26 and the Musketeers might need to hit panic mode and take down the Johnnies and Hoyas. Magic Number: 2
Far Chance (1)
St. John’s (15-12, 7-9)
Am I crazy for thinking St. John’s still has a chance? Wins over Seton Hall and Xavier are both good, although don’t push the needle. But I think there’s still a path for Mike Anderson to lead the Red Storm to the promised land without winning the Big East Tournament. Magic Number: 5
Illinois (19-8, 12-5)
10 combined quad-1 and quad-2 wins with no quad-3 or quad-4 losses make any team a lock. A season sweep of Tom Izzo and Michigan State is also a pretty nice thing to bank on.
Iowa (20-8, 10-7)
A few weeks ago, if you said the Hawkeyes would be a lock before February was over I’d have called you nuts. Now, Iowa is winners of six of their last seven which includes a 13-point road win over Ohio State. Book a flight to the round of 64, Iowa fans.
Michigan State (18-9, 9-7)
Sparty has come crashing down but they’ll still easily be in the Big Dance. Wins over Wisconsin and UConn have to count for something, right?
Ohio State (18-7, 11-5)
The Buckeyes have been a pick to win the Big Ten since the summer and have, for the most part, lived up to the hype. I still think they have another gear up to go, but regardless, Ohio State’s a threat and won’t get bounced early to a 15-seed this time around.
Purdue (24-4, 13-4)
Purdue is a legitimate Final Four pick and there’s no other way around it. Jaden Ivey is a star. Zach Edey and Trevion Williams make up one of the most difficult frontcourts to match up against in the country. Sharpie!
Wisconsin (22-5, 13-4)
The Badgers have the National Player of the Year in Johnny Davis and have been stellar in whatever way you look at them. 7-1 in quad-1 games. 8-2 on the road. And look at this laundry list of wins: at Houston, at Saint Mary’s, vs Marquette, at Purdue, vs Ohio State, and at Michigan State. Brad Davison, the ball is in your court.
More Work Needed (2)
Indiana (17-10, 8-9)
Indiana has slid as much as any team in the entire country in recent weeks. But the Hoosiers don’t have any terrible losses and have mustered up wins against Ohio State and Purdue. Magic Number: 2
Rutgers (16-11, 10-7)
I’ve been a fan of Rutgers since the Purdue win. I thought that carried a lot of weight from the beginning and didn’t just hop on this bandwagon like everyone else. Here’s a February 1 bracket to prove it to you. Now, they just need to finish the season strong enough. Games against Indiana and Penn State should help. Magic Number: 2
Far Chance (1)
Michigan (15-11, 9-7)
Michigan’s had a long year this past week. Now it’s time for the Wolverines to buckle up and drive this season home. It’s going to be tough, but it’s not impossible. Here’s what they’ve got left: vs Illinois, vs Michigan State, vs Iowa, at Ohio State, Big Ten Tournament. Magic Number: 4
Arizona (25-2, 15-1)
Here’s another coach of the year candidate: Tommy Lloyd. He’s turned Arizona into a 1-seed and National Championship contender. The Wildcats rank top-8 in both adjusted offense and defense. That type of basketball is only matched by Gonzaga. No wonder, given Lloyd’s previous affair with the Bulldogs.
UCLA (20-6, 12-5)
I haven’t been entirely thrilled with UCLA’s season, but Mick Cronin’s group is still a team that can make a run. And once you get hot, sometimes it’s hard to stop. But we saw this last year with the Bruins and it’s tougher to do with everyone else on notice.
USC (24-4, 13-4)
In 2020, USC was in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament at 22-9 (11-7). Obviously, no tournament was held, but I promise this year the Trojans won’t be sweating it out on the bubble. They’re as much of a lock as anyone.
More Work Needed (2)
Colorado (18-10, 10-8)
The Buffaloes have fallen a bit below expectations, partly due to an early loss to Southern Illinois. But they’ve bounced back, with a 10-8 record in the Pac 12. But Tad Boyle‘s guys are still searching for that resume-boosting win.
Oregon (18-10, 11-6)
What’s hurting the Ducks? Losses to Arizona State and Stanford. What’s propelling them? Two wins over UCLA and one over USC. One more, and Dana Altman can feel secure in an eighth tourney appearance since 2013. Magic Number: 1
Far Chance (1)
Stanford (15-12, 8-9)
The 104 NET ranking would have to catapult up, but with an away game at Arizona coming up, it certainly could. The path is going to be hard, but it’s not statistically impossible. Magic Number: 5
Washington State (15-12, 8-8)
The Cougars are 3-9 in combined Q-1 and Q-2 games and have three losses between Q-3 and Q-4 opponents. I’m not in love with that, but sometimes it’s a numbers game, and 50th in the NET is keeping them in it. Magic Number: 5
Alabama (18-10, 8-7)
I don’t even like the “Alabama can beat anyone but also lose to anyone” narrative anymore. When it comes down to it, they had the toughest schedule in college basketball. Louisiana Tech is a C-USA title contender. Bama beat them by nearly 30. The Tide dropped 26-4 South Dakota State by 16. They beat Gonzaga and Houston back-to-back and have taken down Tennessee, Florida, LSU, and Arkansas in the SEC with just a little win over Baylor sprinkled in. And the Iona loss? Well, the Gaels could still be an at-large.
Arkansas (22-6, 11-4)
Eric Musselman is just a winner when it comes down to it. 14th in adjusted defense with one of the SEC’s best scorers and game taker-overs in J.D. Notae. They’re one of my sleeper picks for March. Thank me later for the tip.
Auburn (25-3, 13-2)
I would like to claim my prediction for Jabari Smith’s season right now and collect my praise. But who knew Auburn would be this solid as a team, with Final Four aspirations. That’s the world we live in now.
Kentucky (23-5, 12-3)
Kentucky is third in the NET with all five of their losses being quad-1 and also sit third in adjusted offense. There’s just not a lot of room to argue that the Wildcats aren’t a Final Four contender.
LSU (19-9, 7-8)
LSU’s stock has gone down some but Will Wade still has the Tigers in position for a tournament bid. I’m not sure how much I’d buy into LSU once March Madness gets going, but the fact that they’re in is all that matters right now.
Tennessee (20-7, 11-4)
Every single one of Tennessee’s losses has been to teams either ranked in the AP top 25 at the time or have been at some point this season. That type of strength of losses is hard to come by and puts the Vols in uncharted territory.
More Work Needed (1)
Florida (17-11, 7-8)
A quad-4 loss won’t help any bubble team out so the Gators really need to make up for that. They have a couple of away games and a home game against Florida before the SEC Tournament, so there’s still time. Magic Number: 3
Far Chance (2)
Mississippi State (16-12, 7-8)
Losses to Louisville and Minnesota really make me question the Bulldogs. But wins against Alabama and Arkansas make me second guess if they actually might be a solid team. A 52nd NET ranking sort of explains all of that. It’s time for Iverson Molinar and Garrison Brooks to turn it up to a new level. Magic Number: 4
South Carolina (17-10, 8-7)
Frank Martin has got South Carolina onto the bubble which seemed near impossible just a few weeks ago. If they can take just one against Alabama and Auburn, oh boy! Magic Number: 4
Boise State (22-6, 13-2)
It’s time to admit the Mountain West has been better than the ACC this season. Boise State had merit coming into the season but now they’re about to wrap up the conference’s regular-season championship.
Colorado State (22-4, 12-4)
Right behind Boise State is Colorado State and the Rams are also deserving of a lock. David Roddy is the type of player that can elevate a team and take them places in March Madness.
Davidson (23-4, 13-2)
One of the best jump-shooting teams in the country, Davidson is an offensive guru’s team to watch. They might not have Steph Curry but they have another chance at a Sweet 16 run.
Gonzaga (24-2, 13-0)
It’s Gonzaga. Next.
Houston (23-4, 12-2)
Houston has struggled against the top teams in the AAC which makes me think the Cougars are finally the team we thought they were with two of their stars sidelined for the season. But they’re in regardless.
Murray State (27-2, 17-0)
It’s not the Ja Morant Racers but it is the KJ Williams Racers and that’s the next best thing. Murray State is about as legit as it can it with two blowout wins over a Belmont team that still had at-large chances before that drubbing.
Saint Mary’s (23-6, 11-3)
Saint Mary’s has been nothing short of spectacular and a lot of it is due to the experience Randy Bennett has with his team. They might not be Gonzaga, but they’re elevating the WCC this year.
Wyoming (22-5, 11-3)
Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado make up one of the best scoring duos in the country at just below 40 points per game. Don’t count out the Cowboys from winning a game or two and reaching the Sweet 16.
More Work Needed (6)
Dayton (20-8, 12-3)
67th in adjusted offense yet no one is scoring over 12 points per game. Tell me that makes sense. You’re right, it doesn’t, yet the Flyers should still be taken seriously. Magic Number: 3
Loyola Chicago (22-6, 13-4)
If you’re 27th in the NET this late, it’s hard to argue against your chances. Only Murray State, Saint Mary’s, and Gonzaga are mid-majors thank rank higher than the Ramblers. Magic Number: 3
San Diego State (18-7, 10-4)
It’s weird to think that in a year where the Mountain West is so top-heavy, San Diego State is the last of those leaders. The Aztecs can still make the NCAA Tournament, but it would need to come close to running the table to make the MWC a four-bid league. Magic Number: 5
San Francisco (22-8, 9-6)
Earlier in the season, the Dons looked like they surely would have reached the Big Dance as an at-large bid. Now, a loss to Portland doesn’t look too good and San Francisco needs to avenge it. Magic Number: 4
SMU (20-6, 11-3)
Kendric Davis is putting up quite the season and could earn conference player of the year. Here’s hoping he gets to show his skills on the biggest stage. Magic Number: 4
South Dakota State (26-4, 17-0)
The Jackrabbits are led by Douglas Wilson, Baylor Scheierman, and Noah Freidel who all average 15+ points per game. They’re 17-0 in the Summit League and are looking to get in as an automatic bid but certainly have a case otherwise. Magic Number: 3
VCU (19-7, 12-3)
57th in the NET doesn’t move me to put VCU in as a lock but it also gives the Rams a really good chance. Like in the ACC, the Atlantic-10 won’t just be Davidson, but we also don’t know who the other team (or two) will be. VCU certainly has an argument. Magic Number: 4
Far Chance (6)
BYU (20-9, 8-6)
BYU has had a lot of downs that they could have avoided this season. The Cougars lost away games to Vanderbilt by two points, Santa Clara by a point, and Pacific by three. Now they need a win over Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament. Magic Number: 4
Iona (23-5, 15-2)
The chances of the MAAC being a two-bid league are so slim but I really think Iona needs to be considered. The Alabama win deserves to give put the Gaels on a bit of a pedestal. Win the rest of the regular season and lose close in the MAAC title game and I think they’re in. Magic Number: 5
Memphis (16-9, 10-5)
44th in the NET is about as fringe as it can get so no wonder Memphis is in that position. Doesn’t it just seem right? A second win over Houston would really put Penny Hardaway’s squad in a favorable spot. Magic Number: 5
North Texas (20-4, 13-1)
Can the C-USA be a two-bid league? UAB is more than capable of taking home the conference tournament title and North Texas is 37th in the NET. That’s above Seton Hall, Wyoming, and Indiana. Magic Number: 5
St. Bonaventure (18-7, 10-4)
The Bonnies might have been the pick to win the A-10 in November but now they’re in danger of missing the tournament altogether. They end with St. Joe’s, VCU, and Richmond and one would think they need to win all three and a game or two in Washington D.C. to make it to March. Magic Number: 5